- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000



* Angela’s Ashes (1999) (R: Profanity, brief nudity, comic vulgarity) ****. A taut, visual and faithful adaptation a wonder in itself of Frank McCourt’s mega-hit memoir about coming of age in miserably poor Limerick, Ireland. Director Alan Parker skillfully narrates a compelling story with subtle humor and powerful acting. Emily Watson’s sad, saintly mother, Angela, and Robert Carlyle’s complex ne’er-do-well dad, Malachy, anchor the film, but the three tyros Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge who play Frank McCourt at various ages justify their stardom, too. Patrick Butters.

* Any Given Sunday (1999) (R: frequent profanity and comic vulgarity; graphic violence in the context of professional football games; occasional nudity, sexual candor and sexual vulgarity; fleeting racial antagonism and epithets) ** 1/2. One of the more entertaining monstrosities in recent memory. Oliver Stone exults in a raucous, bombastic, equivocal love song to professional football, and it seems a great relief that this bundle of cinematic aggression has found a hobby apart from political polemics to keep him overstimulated. Approaching three hours of diverting excess, the movie is distinguished by an ear-splitting soundtrack and bone-jarring game sequences. As a rule, the camera places spectators at ground zero during collisions. A front-office subplot finds owner Cameron Diaz, an overcompensating daddy’s girl, interfering with coach Al Pacino, a weary but gritty disciple of the late Vince Lombardi. With Dennis Quaid as a battered veteran quarterback and Jamie Foxx as his promising heir apparent, who must learn true humility from Mr. Pacino and teammate Lawrence Taylor, cast to type as a demon linebacker.

* The Cider House Rules (1999) (R: partial nudity, violence) *** 1/2. A movie version of the John Irving novel, adapted by the author and directed by Lasse Hallstrom. An orphanage spawns the unique Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), whose mentor, the good Dr. Larch (Michael Caine), unwittingly sends him out to take on a world of abortion, addiction, incest, infidelity and injustice. Patrick Butters.

* Boys Don’t Cry (1999) (R: frequent profanity; occasional graphic violence and graphic sexual interludes; depictions of heavy drinking and drug use; fleeting nudity; sexual inversion integral to the plot and themes) ** 1/2. A bleakly absorbing but also dubiously romanticized dramatization of an authentic murder case: the 1994 Nebraska killing of a young woman named Tina Brandon, who placed herself in jeopardy by posing as an amorous, puckish lad called Brandon Teena. On the lam from several petty crimes in her native Lincoln, Tina (a dedicated but not quite persuasive impersonation by Hilary Swank, a “Beverly Hills, 90210” alum), tries to ingratiate herself with a white-trash “family” in nearby, desolate Falls City. The androgynous newcomer becomes kind of a mascot, then seduces a young woman named Lana (Chloe Sevigny). Eventually, their romance enrages the ex-cons of the “family” (Peter Sarsgaard and Brandan Sexton III), who regard themselves as domestic benefactors and tyrants in households that obviously suffer acutely from the absence of mature, respectable, law-abiding men. Making her feature debut, Kimberly Peirce depicts the ominous buildup with incisive and sardonic skill. Unfortunately, she also needs an ersatz silver lining and celebrates the Tina-Lana infatuation as an inspirational, liberating sort of calamity.* Down to You (2000) (PG-13) A romantic comedy about college sweeethearts, played by Julia Stiles and Freddie Prinze Jr., whose romance is threatened by interfering, hedonistic classmates. A first feature written and directed by Kris Isaacson. The supporting cast includes Selma Blair, Shawn Hatosy and Henry Winkler.

* The End of the Affair (1999) (R: Occasional profanity and sexual candor; interludes of nudity and simulated intercourse; fleeting violence within a World War II setting) * 1/2. An uninspired attempt at high-class tear-jerking, derived from Graham Greene’s novel of the same name. Reputed to be a semiautobiographical meditation on an ill-fated love affair, the book revolves around the frustration of a writer named Maurice Bendrix, portrayed by the prince of heartsick adulterers, Ralph Fiennes. Flashbacks retrieve the affair, set against a backdrop of World War II in London. The lovers are Maurice and Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), the wife of Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), a prominent but colorless government bureaucrat who lives in the same neighborhood. Sarah suddenly breaks off the romance after a close call: The first wave of V-1 bombs explodes after a rendezvous and nearly costs Maurice his life. This spectacle gives the movie its one impressive sequence, milked for an encore by director Neil Jordan. While elegantly mounted, the movie withers away in evocative, knowing fidelity to the source.

* Eye of the Beholder (2000) (R: Frequent graphic violence, with stabbings preferred; occasional profanity, nudity and sexual vulgarity) No stars. Abstraction reduces every episode to a delusionary shambles in this dithering, affected crime thriller, directed by the Australian Stephan Elliott. He was on far less treacherous flamboyant ground with “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd are the co-starring patsies: he as a lonely wretch of a British Secret Service agent in the United States and she as the ludicrous femme fatale. Known only by the code name “Eye,” Mr. McGregor is assigned to shadow Miss Judd, who establishes a disreputable modus operandi by slashing a victim while distracting him with a striptease. Eye’s only companion is an invisible playmate, perhaps the ghost of a lost daughter. Infatuated with the lethal heroine, Eye follows her across the continent, sometimes tidying up her crime scenes, sometimes trying to croak her. Their strange affinities bottom out in a frozen lake, ostensibly in Alaska, but any form of burial will suffice. A stranger to credibility, the movie might be humored as an exercise in total menacing humbug.* Galaxy Quest (1999) (PG: Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; occasional violence in a facetious context, but some situations could prove alarming to very young children.) **. An overblown disappointment as an ostensible spoof of “Star Trek” and its legend, but harmless and fitfully enjoyable. As former cast members of a beloved science-fiction TV series called “Galaxy Quest,” Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman get shortchanged by the writers, much more adept at contriving secondary characters. Enrico Colantoni is the prevailing scene-stealer as a sweet-natured alien, the leader of an expedition to recruit the hapless “Quest” actors as genuine champions in a time of peril to his own distant planet. Why he needs them remains a stumper. There are funnier, smarter affinities between the aliens and a batch of geeky fans led by Justin Long. With Patrick Breen and Missi Pyle as estimable aliens. Directed by Dean Parisot from a screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon.

* Girl, Interrupted (1999) (R: ample profanity, simulated sex) No stars. Winona Ryder was so enchanted by Susanna Kaysen’s best-selling nonfiction story of what it was like to spend some time in the late ‘60s in a fancy institution for the mentally disturbed that she bought the rights to the book, took on the leading role and assumed the function of executive producer on the project. Miss Ryder works diligently at her tasks, but unfortunately, the author left the actress to cope with playing basically just another spoiled brat of the ‘60s generation. Angelina Jolie does a bang-up job as a tough-spirited young woman who doesn’t seem to belong with the other fragile, nervous lassies. Cynthia Grenier.

* The Hurricane (1999) (R: Occasional graphic violence, including simulated prizefighting scenes; frequent profanity; occasional sexual candor and racial animosity) A polemical biopic about the struggle of former middleweight boxer Rubin Carter, nicknamed “Hurricane” in his prime, to clear his name after being convicted of multiple murder in New Jersey in 1966. Directed by Norman Jewison, the movie stars Denzel Washington as Mr. Carter; it ascribes his eventual exoneration, 30 years later, to the efforts of a hero-worshipping teen-ager played by Vicellous Shannon, abetted by a trio of Canadian guardians played by Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber and John Hannah. Not reviewed.

* Isn’t She Great (2000) (R) A comedy-drama about the celebrity years of the best-selling novelist Jacqueline Susann, portrayed by Bette Midler. Career struggles came to a happy conclusion for Miss Susann in 1966 with the publication of the scandalous show-business novel “The Valley of the Dolls.” Andrew Bergman directed from a screenplay by Paul Rudnick. Nathan Lane plays Miss Susann’s husband, publicist Irving Mansfield. Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, John Cleese and Amanda Peet have principal supporting roles. Not reviewed.* Magnolia (1999) (R: Frequent profanity, sexual vulgarity and allusions to drug use; occasional sinister elements and fleeting graphic violence; a subplot involving a bullied child; subplots involving terminal illness; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse) 1/2 star. An ambitious, interminable fiasco from the fitfully promising young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Oblivious to the pitfalls of narrative drift and bloat, Mr. Anderson permits himself “Magnolia,” a miserably affected tear-jerker about lost souls in the San Fernando Valley on a day of reckoning that turns out to be insufferable. A witty prologue suggests a humorous approach to chance and coincidence that never materializes as the episodic screenplay begins bogging down. Several characters weave in and out, sharing family or emotional links that escape immediate detection: Jason Robards as a dying tycoon, Julianne Moore as his panicky wife, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a male nurse, Tom Cruise as an obnoxious guru of male aggression, Philip Baker Hall as a dying game-show host, Jeremy Blackman as a quiz kid, William H. Macy as a former quiz kid, John C. Reilly as a softhearted cop and Melora Walters as a jumpy addict. Mr. Anderson sketches pathetic or desperate cases who might be better off dead, then congratulates himself for being a merciful creator, willing to forgive innate human weakness.

* Man on the Moon (1999) (R: occasional profanity, comic and sexual vulgarity; fleeting nudity and simulated sex play in an episode set in a brothel; fleeting graphic violence) **. A cult-mongering homage to the late, terminally weird comedian Andy Kaufman, contrived by several former colleagues and business partners. Most conspicuously, Danny DeVito, who co-produced, also plays the subject’s doting agent, George Shapiro (visible briefly as a club owner who sacks Kaufman). Jim Carrey’s impersonation of Kaufman is faithful and sometimes impressive; his skills are sharper, and his execution more consistent. Despite this exploitable performance, the movie lacks a steady human-interest focus. Director Milos Forman and the writers, Larry Alexander and Scott Karaszewski, want to glorify unstable personalities and find it expedient to ignore glaring obstacles. In this instance, they regard the audience as suckers, hopefully oblivious about Kaufman’s routines and elaborate hoaxes. With Paul Giammati as crony Bob Zmuda and Courtney Love in a thankless role as a consort. Numerous celebrities make guest appearances, including David Letterman and wrestler Jerry Lawler in a reprise of a notorious TV hoax of 1982.

* Play It to the Bone (2000) (R: Frequent profanity and comic vulgarity, including repeated sexual allusions and insults; graphic violence during sequences that depict prizefights) No stars. Ron Shelton’s comic judgment and aptitude seemed to need intensive care during “Cobb” and “Tin Cup.” They collapse completely during this facetious celebration of a lackluster menage a trois. The participants are retired boxers played by Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas and a sassy mutual girlfriend, Lolita Davidovich. On short notice, the fighters are offered a preliminary bout at a heavyweight championship evening in Las Vegas. The movie expires prematurely, while they are being driven from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by the heroine, a feeble echo of the sports groupie played by Susan Sarandon in Mr. Shelton’s admirable “Bull Durham.” Eventually the palookas bash each other for 10 preposterous rounds, sharing honorable cuts and about 50 nine-counts between them. The crude coyness of the triangle grows unbearable well before the match. Boredom and loathing prove deadly companions as Mr. Shelton foolishly prolongs the car ride. Lucy Liu has a lewd bit as a hitchhiking slut who gets punched out by Miss Davidovich. With Robert Wagner, Tom Sizemore and Richard Masur as Runyonesque flotsam, augmented by several ex-boxers as corner men and assorted movie stars as peekaboo bit players.* Stuart Little (1999) (G: Fleeting comic vulgarity) **. This computer-aided adaptation of the E.B. White fable about Stuart, the precocious white mouse raised by a human family in New York City, is a fitfully attractive nice try. Unfortunately, the trio of Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and juvenile Jonathan Lipnicki lack reliable comic appeal as human foils and protectors for Stuart, spoken by Michael J. Fox. The best sequences depict Stuart’s introduction to the household and his touchy relationship with a contemptuous pet cat, Snowbell, tartly dubbed by Nathan Lane. These critters might have carried the show if reinvented as eccentric sidekicks and urban explorers. This clearly is the best family alternative after “Toy Story 2.”

* Sweet and Lowdown (1999), PG-13 *. Woody Allen is at it again, showing us how a “great” artist should be forgiven for all his miserable behavior, provided he is great enough. Here Sean Penn plays a supposedly legendary jazz guitarist, Emmet Ray, who is a fabulous musician but a swine to women. English actress Samantha Morton gives a luminous performance as the mute laundress Hattie, who falls in love, to her misfortune, with the guitarist. Mr. Allen clearly modeled the relationship on Fellini’s “La Strada.” Cynthia Grenier.

* The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), (R: violence, murder, profanity) No stars. Anthony Minghella’s follow-up on his much-Academy Awarded “The English Patient” doesn’t look destined to repeat his winning act. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s long-selling novel of the same title, the movie endows Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon) with far more of a conscience than Miss Highsmith’s original. Mr. Damon proves fairly colorless as Ripley, not really bringing off the homosexual shadings of the character. On the other hand, Jude Law, the golden, spoiled object of Ripley’s affections, gives an on-target performance. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett look pretty enough in 1950s summer outfits but have not been given much to do. Philip Seymour Hoffmann, an actor who seems to be everywhere this season, brilliantly does a turn as an insufferably snobbish Ivy League bore. Cynthia Grenier.

* Topsy-Turvy (1999) (R: some brief simulated intercourse, one scene of drug addiction) ****. Director Mike Leigh devotes close to three remarkably enjoyable hours to re-creating one of the 19th century’s most enduring popular musical works: “The Mikado” by that celebrated pair, Gilbert and Sullivan. After 10 years of unbroken success, librettist William Schwenk Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) find their latest work, “Princess Ida,” is not getting the usual response from the public. Perhaps that is because of an intense London heat wave in the summer of 1884, perhaps also because the work just isn’t quite up to what the public has grown to expect of them. Gilbert is working on a new libretto, but Sullivan, yearning to turn to more serious music, finds it unsatisfactory “topsy-turvy,” in his words. A chance visit to a Japanese exhibition with his wife gives Gilbert the inspiration for what will become the pair’s most famous collaboration. Almost the entire second half of the film is devoted to the production of the comic opera, from Japanese women showing English actresses how to move, right through rehearsals and up to the triumphal first night. It’s a superb view of backstage life. The acting is first-rate, as are the photography, sets and costumes. You might quibble a bit at Mr. Leigh’s choosing to introduce 20th-century socialist sensibility in showing the underside of Victorian life, but it shouldn’t spoil your pleasure in the film. Cynthia Grenier

* Toy Story 2 (1999) (R) ****. Marvelous sequel to the 1995 blockbuster re-creates all the thrills and magic of its predecessor. Woody and Buzz Lightyear (voices by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) and their toy-box friends face new peril at the hands of greedy toy collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). Director John Lasseter, who won a special Oscar for the original “Toy Story,” returns with a multilevel adventure that’s as much story as technological masterpiece. Patrick Butters.

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